The most disturbing villain I’ve written in a while
June 20, 2023

The most disturbing villain I’ve written in a while

June, moon, spoon. If you are of a younger generation, June and moon have no logical connection to spoon, because neither the month of June nor the moon can be eaten like a pudding. Back in the day, “to spoon” meant to show affection by kissing and caressing in a sentimental fashion. Thus a warm June night and a full moon provided an ideal environment for couples to cuddle on the front porch swing.

The word “cuddle” is more easily defined for moderns: It is what you do with your dog that reduces it to a delighted puddle of fur. This is not to say that, back in the day, young couples were reduced to puddles of fur when they cuddled. They were not. Pet rollers were not required to groom their clothing after cuddling. The human and canine reactions to cuddling are psychologically similar but physiologically different. For one thing, after cuddling for an hour on a sofa, two humans will not feel the urgent need to be taken outside to pee.

If I know well my readers of all generations, and I do, some of you are now saying, “Okay, if you’re so smart, explain the meaning of spoon in these lines from Shakespeare: High diddle diddle/The cat and the fiddle/The cow jumped over the moon/The little dog laughed/To see such craft/And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Challenge accepted. These lines are of course from “Ode to June, Not the Woman but the Month,” by William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon. Avon refers to Stratford-on-Avon, a riverside town in England, not to a line of beauty products sold door to door. In spite of the uncertainty of a writer’s income flow, Shakespeare never peddled skin creams and makeup to suburban housewives.

“Diddle diddle” was an Old English word for “moon,” and the poet is saying the moon was high on this particular night. The cat is fiddling, as cats in the first decade of the 17th century often did, when felines then were into music and had not yet discovered mice. The cow, charmed by the tune—or perhaps in a state of high agitation because of the farmer’s failure to milk her for a few days—jumps over the moon. This does not refer to the actual moon, the “diddle diddle,” because no cow could jump so high. The bard is using “moon,” which was in those days a synonym for “diddle diddle,” to create an exaggerated image to convey the degree of the cow’s emotional reaction to the situation.

Are you with me so far? All right. “The little dog laughed” is without subtext and must be taken to mean only what it says, that the dog is highly amused by what the cow has done, as you would have been as well if you had been there. The next line, “To see such craft,” reveals that even a poet as celebrated as Shakespeare can at times find it difficult to think of an appropriate rhyme. There is no “craft” involved when a cow jumps high, only an unlikely triumph of bovine will over bovine physiology. A better line would have been “To see something so daft,” which rhymes well enough with “laugh” in the line above.

And now to the brilliant conclusion of this masterpiece. “And the dish ran away with the spoon” might seem nonsensical to those who lack the power to undertake an exegesis of great poetry, but it’s quite clear to me. “Dish” refers to an attractive young woman, and “spoon” refers to the young man with whom she has been spooning. We are left to assume they ran away to be married, according to the conventions of the time, and brought a teaming brood of snot-nosed children into the world. Thus, for centuries, the words “June, moon, spoon” have been so linked in the minds of those in the English-speaking world that uncountable songwriters and poets have used them together in the production of a vast ocean of copyrighted works.

There are some litterateurs who see a darker end to the poem. They note that a cow jumping so high must soon come down, and they conjecture that it dropped on the dish and her spoon as they ran away, crushing them to death. Although Shakespeare had a dark side—he whacked Romeo and Juliette, after all—I believe this piece was written in one of his lighter moods, when the Ritalin and Prozac were really working in concert. I refuse—and I urge you to refuse—to imagine that the cat and the little dog were subjected to such a traumatizing sight as young lovers being squashed to oblivion by a plunging cow, for in that case, the cat would have gone mad, and the little dog would never have laughed again, which is just too sad.

The only news this time is that my new novel, After Death, will be available as a hardcover, eBook, and audio on July 18th. It moves very fast, with more twists and turns than a road in a chase scene in a James Bond movie. It is suspenseful, yet contains a love story (though with no time for spooning). It is scary, though not so scary that you’ll frequently have to be taken outside to pee. The villain is the most disturbing I’ve written in a while, so lock the doors and get your courage on before you start to read.

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